After a slew of fairly warm days, I decided to take a walk at one of the local wildlife refuges in Northern Virginia. Huntley Meadows is one of my favorite places to take walks (with a camera, of course). There is a central wetland (fairly small) that hosts an abundant variety of birds (especially during the warm months of spring to fall). In the midst of a relatively warm winter, there have been days that observers reported a wide variety of birds in the refuge.
Yesterday (Saturday) was not one of those days where birds were plentiful and easy to find. I am sure that trained eyes would do better than I did, but it was barely above 20F when I left for the refuge (about ten miles away), after the sun had been up an hour. Surprisingly, there were a fair number of people walking around the park. And there were a fair number of disappointed photographers.
It was cold. And for the day (at least in the morning), the birds were few in number. Oh, there were ducks of several sorts and there was an osprey (or something like it) that flew over the boardwalk for a scant ten seconds. Aside from that, nothing. It was a cold day for this human. I suppose the birds don’t really want to go out and about when the wind is brisk and the sun barely peeking out of the clouds.
Oh well. There were still ducks.
Somehow, an eagle with a fish, being chased by another eagle, makes dull colors really interesting. Or not. These two juvenile bald eagles seem unaware of the bland coloration around them. There are (a lot of) fish in the water, meals to eat. Action. Lots of it. In bursts. Sometimes, you can wait for hours and see nothing but the bland brown color of rocks in a river. Then suddenly, an eagle dives for a fish, sometimes almost in front of you. Conowingo, in late November and December certainly is a place not lacking in excitement. If you wait.
One of the most interesting places to visit in the east coast of the United States is Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve. Is it by Delaware Bay and the reserve is a major stop in the Atlantic Flyway , the route that most birds take when they migrate northwards or southwards. This means that birds almost always make a stop at Bombay Hook during the spring and fall migration season. It makes it easier for non expert birders like myself to find birds to photograph.
Bombay Hook is a two hour drive from Northern Virginia. You head to Annapolis, Maryland and then cross the Bay Bridge towards the Eastern Shore. You proceed towards Wilmington, Delaware though you actually end up near Smyrna. Since you need to get to the reserve around sunrise, you generally have to leave at 4AM or a little earlier to get there on time. Every trip yields different photo opportunities. Just don’t come here in the summer. You will be eaten alive by mosquitoes, flies and other biting insects. Actually, if you have a thick skin and/or love insects (which birds apparently do), this could be the place to be in the summer. It is only a short drive from the Delaware Atlantic beaches. It is also a short drive from Wilmington, Delaware.
Bombay Hook has plenty of short walking trails that allow different views of the marshes and pools that dot the reserve. There are, of course, a lot of trees, bushes, flowers and other things that hide birds (and feed birds) quite well. My musings on Bombay Hook will be comprised of multiple postings. I only started visiting this wildlife reserve earlier this year. It will be a place that I will return to again and again.
The pictures below were taken on my first trip to Bombay Hook (late April 2017).
I haven’t been to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge since spring. I’d almost forgotten what a great place this suburban refuge is for spotting birds. Perhaps it is the massive amount of flies that are very adept at finding places to bite you during the summer time.
As I walked the trails at the refuge, a large buck with a large set of antlers jumped about fifteen feet beyond me. I have never seen anything that big so close before (at least not in the Northern Virginia suburbs) and I was stunned. I almost forgot that I had a camera with me as I struggle to see where it went. I saw it again, but instead of taking a picture, I just soaked in the experience of seeing something new. It scampered away quickly. Darn.
Fortunately, the bluebirds still sang. The woodpeckers still pecked. And a few birds that I’ve never spotted before were, surprisingly, within my camera’s view. I’ve been telling myself that even though a bird looks grey or brown, it may be something unfamiliar. When you are learning how to spot birds, one of the worst things to do is assume that if a bird looks like something you’ve seen before, you just ignore it. I am not very good at spotting birds, so imagine my surprise when I looked at the pictures of the small birds and saw a hermit thrush (above) and what I believe is a yellow rumped warbler.
And a white throated sparrow hiding behind leaves.
Of course, why not take pictures of a woodpecker and an Eastern Bluebird?
And fortunately, with the tide low, this ring billed gull was standing in the sand.
The birds are still here. And they are at Huntley Meadows. Just look for bushes laden with berries. Or seed bearing pods.
And with autumn in the air, in the leaves, in the sky (the sun angle is far from its summer heights), the birds remind us that season after season, life is everywhere. And beautiful to behold. In all its forms.
I must admit that the russet, orange, yellow and green umbrella of leaves didn’t leave much room for finding birds and taking pictures of them on my walk at Huntley Meadows. I must also admit that it doesn’t take that long to walk a three mile trail, unless you’re walking back and forth looking for birds (and not finding them). As I entered the trail at Huntley Meadows, there were some forlorn photographers, with their long lenses and tripods leaving the park. I didn’t want to ask how the birding was, but after ten minutes of walking, I could not resist to ask someone how their morning had gone. Not a lot of interesting things, or something like that, was the verbal answer. It was a confirmation of a supposition answered in the faces of many a photographer walking the trails at the park. Not very promising, but at least there were leaves.
And a good thing that red, orange, yellow and green were in copious quantity. Did it make up for a lack of birds? No. The lesser number of birds in the park, combined with the masking quality of the colors in the trees, combined with my inadequate skills at bird spotting really limited the number of opportunities for spotting a bird. On a beautiful autumn day, the birds may have been there, but so where the leaves. Still, it would have been nice to find more of our avian friends. A lot more practice at bird spotting lies ahead. A great way to enjoy the wonderful beauty that nature provides.